Adapted from Daniel Keyes's novel Flowers for Algernon
must be viewed as a soap opera of and for its zeitgeist--the halcyon '60s, when "natural" was nirvana, the air hummed with the mantra "Everybody's beautiful," and all ills stemmed from institutional monoliths such as Science, Government, Education, Religion. Accordingly, Charly (Cliff Robertson) is a 30-year-old retardate whose doofus sweetness makes him superior to most able-minded folk, whether they're the bigoted dolts he sweeps floors for or the ambitious scientists who see him as the human equivalent of Algernon, a mouse they've surgically (but impermanently) smartened up. Naturally, post-op Charly, sporting a genius IQ, "sees things as they are." Trotted out as the neurosurgeons' poster boy, he stands up to the "learned" audience--shot as faceless, inhuman interrogators. He's every '60s flower child, berating his "elders" for blighting their brave new world.
The one gift Charly gets out of becoming Brainiac is sex. In a lengthy montage resembling a retro TV commercial, he and his special-ed teacher (Claire Bloom, madonna with eternal Mona Lisa smile) romp through an Edenic outdoors, their embraces hallowed by sunlight glinting through leaves, moonlight glinting on water, and sappy Ravi Shankar music. (Stylistic clichés also include embarrassing outbreaks of split screens and multiple small screens within the frame, notably when rebellious Charly turns biker.) Robertson's performance is well-meaning but hokey. Still, in the penultimate moments when Charly begins to slide back into retardation, the actor achieves a genuine tragic gravity, and he became a surprise Oscar winner for his pains. --Kathleen Murphy